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I’ve just finished a 4 day trip to Canada on the search for Reps to sell JoJo in this huge country!
It’s my first proper trip here and I have to say, the Canadians are very lovely people.
It’s immediately easy to assume it’s just like America and there are, of course, many similarities but you quickly realise – and quite rightly – that they have their own identity and if you ignore their accent and the ever-present Starbucks on each street corner, you quickly see the differences.
The claims that they are generally more reserved, less aggressive and less excitable than their neighbours to the south, is really obvious.
This amazing country is vast though.
I ended my journey in the stunning city of Vancouver.
The Rep here will cover what’s called the Western Provinces and British Columbia. Many residents here apparently feel very estranged from “easterners” a general word they use to describe those from Ontario and Québec.
The cobbled streets and old buildings of Gastown are vibrant and full of restaurants but the rest of the city is relatively new and although there’s a great retail presence with funky vintage stores, adult clothing and one-off home/gift shops, there’s a serious lack of childrenswear options and it seems that’s the same across the entire region. In a landmass almost as big as Australia, there are just 200 retailers we can probably sell to and these Reps have got to fly for hours to reach some of them.
Before Vancouver I had 36hrs in Toronto in Ontario – the most inhabited chunk of Canada regarded as the country’s economic, political and cultural centre. Definitely a more business-like and conservative Canada. Fancy and flouncy brands from Europe and America struggle here with customers wanting more classic, clean looks – JoJo heartland!
What was lovely to see in Toronto is the main shopping street, Queen Street, had a distinct lack of chains. Almost every store was a unique independent with a great identity sticking two fingers up to the GAPs, All Saints and H&Ms. Americanisation has not quite happened here although Nordstrom opening next year might change that.
The most interesting stop was my first one in Montréal. This vibrant, liberal city threw me totally. The Québécois, (the citizens of Québec) pride themselves on being different from their neighbours – they have a very strong sense of cultural identity and are very nationalistic. It’s a place where apparently fun is taken seriously and as a result they are sometimes called the ‘Latins of the North’
After a long day of meetings, I forced myself to go for a walk around Old Montréal but the pouring rain insisted I stop for a drink. Here I was, sitting in a very French café, asking in French for a beer, looking out over a very Parisian street with a boulangerie opposite and soupe a l’oignon about to be served.
The thing that then throws you is paying in notes and coins with the Queen’s head on reminding you of the very British connection.
Old Montréal could absolutely be Paris and the rain is helping me feel decidedly close to home – as if a quick Eurostar trip will get back to London in time for Coronation Street. Its beautiful cobbled streets and architecture date back to the 19th century but the things I’m ‘seeing’ are not where it stops.
What you ‘hear’ and ‘read’ is more amazing and that’s 100% French.
I’ve had a very lengthy conversation this afternoon about JoJo needing to label everything we sell here in English AND French. The Reps I’ve recruited tell me that less than 20% of the retailers they sell to can even speak English. 80% of Québec’s 8 million inhabitants have French as their mother tongue and have French ancestry. Outside of Montreal 95% ONLY speak French.
Scratch the surface and it goes even deeper.
This is French soil! With a language police. Really!! Québec has some of the strictest language laws in the world.
French MUST be the predominant language on signs, retail or food. Restaurant employees must always greet customers in French and there are even laws dictating whether parents can send their children to English schools. I’m told an Italian restaurant hit the news last year when it was closed down because it refused to stray from Italian being written in the menu.
JoJo will undoubtedly do brilliantly here – they not only love Breton stripes but they understand the whole look and the fact we sound French is a huge tick!
Now the only part of Canada to cross off is the massive North. Residents here are seen as rugged embodiments of the Canadian pioneer spirit. Carry on up and you actually hit the North Pole but I’m assured the population is sparse and our cute swimwear and appliquéd t-shirts will struggle to make an impact so although this pains me, I may just have to give in and accept that Canada is sorted!